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Spring 2022 “Skills & Careers in Science Writing” Course

Applications are now open for Northwestern STEM+ PhD candidates interested in developing science writing and communication skills.

“Skills & Careers in Science Writing” is a partnership between the Medill School of Journalism, The Graduate School, and Science in Society. In its seventh year, the course trains graduate students to distill scientific ideas into engaging, reader-friendly stories for lay audiences and provides networking and exposure to science writing and communication professionals. Students will work with former and current journalists and scientists-turned-journalists to develop a stronger understanding of narrative technique, story structure, and the uses of metaphors and vivid language to convey complex topics.

The course culminates in an article written for the general public, developed through intensive one-on-one support from both course faculty and expert guest editors. (Editors in 2021 included Becky Lang, former editor-in-chief of Discover Magazine.) Previous students have published articles and blogs with several science and general interest publications including Helix, Discover, Vox, and Scientific American; some have gone on to the prestigious AAAS science journalism fellowship program.

The class will meet in person, on Mondays 2:00 PM–5:00 PM CST in Fisk Hall, Room 206, in Evanston. Regular assignments (readings and writing) will vary in time commitment—expect another one to two hours of homework per week. Class will meet for nine weeks, beginning Monday, April 4, 2021 through June 6, 2021 (no class on Memorial Day).

Note: The application form includes a short essay and personal statement.

Applicants must be full-time, PhD-track STEM+ graduate students at Northwestern. Relevant fields of study include but are not limited to anthropology, chemistry, communication sciences & disorders, computer science, engineering, life sciences, math, physics and psychology. 

Priority will be given to students entering the 3rd or 4th year of PhD study. At this time we are not considering applications from postdoctoral trainees or master's degree students.

Applications are due by Monday, February 28, 2022 at 12:59 PM. 

The course focuses on three key learning outcomes:

  • Develop science writing and communication skills appropriate for lay audiences.
    • Conveying complex scientific content in audience-appropriate ways.
    • Employing narrative and storytelling modalities to communicate information to non-experts.
    • Building a better understanding of non-scientist audiences including expectations and knowledge levels—and how to design various approaches for effective, relevant engagement.
  • Gain greater understanding of and exposure to science writing and communication careers, models and opportunities.
    • Understanding feature writing story structures and learning to pitch articles.
    • Building your brand and portfolio through social media.
    • Building interviewing and reporting skills.
    • Working with a professional editor.
  • Build an iterative writing practice including 
    • Practicing self-editing and revision.
    • Giving and receiving constructive peer feedback in dialog.
    • Creating science communiques through several drafts and with external readers and feedback.

All course alumni report applying their learning immediately and in a variety of professional and academic contexts. After taking this course, 96 percent of students reported being more interested in science writing and communication (regardless of their intended career direction). Eighty-eight percent also indicated a strong interest in further courses in science communication and writing, and 82 percent indicated an increased interest in this as a future career path. Several students have pursued science writing externally, with articles appearing in several mainstream.

"[The skills I learned in this course] will be helpful to convince people of the importance of scientific research and (hopefully) policy-making around science. I have found the techniques of storytelling and explainers useful for 'elevator pitches' as well as revising papers – yes, peer-reviewed papers as well." – Skills & Careers in Science Writing course alum 

If you have any questions, please email Patty Wolter.

Categories: STEM